Homeland Security Chair: Anti-ISIS Coalition Thinks America Isn’t Leading Enough

Terror group’s ability to conduct attacks not diminished, official says

A U.S. Army soldier speaks to his Iraqi army counterpart at Camp Swift, Iraq / AP

Members of the coalition fighting the Islamic State suggested to a leading U.S. lawmaker that they don’t believe the United States has demonstrated enough leadership in combating the terror group.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who was a U.S. representative at the 71st U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview on Tuesday afternoon that members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS feel that "America hasn’t led enough" in the effort to expel ISIS from its stronghold in Iraq and Syria.

"I was in New York and I was talking to the coalition partners and I think it’s fair to characterize their feelings as America hasn’t led enough in order to actually accomplish that goal," said Johnson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

"And if we did lead enough, we could have wiped out ISIS a long time ago. We just haven’t had the will and the leadership and the commitment to actually accomplish that goal," he said.

Johnson’s remarks come as the U.S. military prepares to help local Iraqi forces mount an offensive to retake Mosul, the terror group’s de facto capital in Iraq. Forces backed by the United States are also looking to retake Raqqa in Syria, though the situation in that country has been complicated by a failed ceasefire and assaults against rebel groups by Syrian and Russian government forces.

President Obama announced the formation of the global coalition to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS in Iraq and Syria two years ago. Since then, more than 60 nations and partner organizations have signed on to defeat the terror group that has ransacked the Middle East and carried out attacks in Paris, Brussels, and the United States.

"It took us four years to defeat Nazi Germany and imperial Japan," Johnson said Tuesday. "Are you telling me that America can’t lead an effort to actually accomplish the destruction of a caliphate that is basically run by tens of thousands of ISIS operatives?"

"If we were to lead, we probably could destroy ISIS in a matter of months," Johnson continued. "And we haven’t done it, we haven’t been serious about it. And I see no strategy on the part of this administration to actually do it."

The Free Beacon spoke to Johnson following a Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats facing the homeland, during which the senator expressed frustration that the United States was "playing defense" against terror threats to the homeland rather than fighting ISIS abroad.

ISIS lost 14 percent of its territory last year and another 12 percent during the first six months of 2016, according to an analysis published by IHS Jane’s 360 in July.

Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified that ISIS’s capacity to launch attacks has not been "significantly diminished" by its territorial losses.

"It is our judgement that ISIL’s capacity and ability today to carry out attacks in Syria and Iraq and abroad has not thus far been significantly diminished," Rasmussen told lawmakers, using another acronym for the terrorist group. "The tempo of ISIL-linked terrorist attacks and terrorist activity in Europe and other places around the globe is a reminder of that global reach."

"This external operation’s capability has been building and entrenching over the past two years and we don’t think that battlefield or territorial losses alone will be sufficient to completely degrade the group’s terrorism capabilities," Rasmussen continued.

During testimony, FBI Director James Comey highlighted the challenge of thwarting the "terrorist diaspora" that will result from the destruction of ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

"The so-called caliphate will be crushed. The challenge will be, through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of very, very dangerous people," Comey said. "They will not all die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two-to-five years like we’ve never seen before. We must prepare ourselves and our allies especially in western Europe to confront that threat."

"They will try to come to western Europe and try to come here to kill innocent people," Comey said.

The hearing came after the arrest of Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings that wounded dozens of people earlier in September. The FBI’s handling of Rahami’s case has come under scrutiny because it was warned by Rahami’s father two years ago that his son might be a terrorist. The FBI looked into the report but found no reason to take action.

Comey said Tuesday that the bureau is reviewing its prior inquiry into Rahami, as well as its investigation of Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June before being shot dead by police.

The FBI director insisted that the bureau is committed to "finding those pieces of hay that might become a needle and figuring out how to disrupt them before they do harm," which he said has become difficult to do given terrorists’ use of encrypted communications.

Johnson expressed confidence that Comey and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson would perform a "post-mortem" of the cases, underlining the need for the agencies to look at possibly changing their internal procedures.

Johnson also said that the government should consider stricter restrictions on travel to areas like Pakistan and Afghanistan for Americans at risk of radicalization, while making sure to respect civil liberties. Rahami traveled multiple times to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Mateen traveled to Saudi Arabia.

"I think the FBI has got to monitor international travel, particularly to any nation where you’ve got state-sponsorship of terrorism, that are these hot spots of Islamic terror," Johnson said.